Tag Archives: Blocks to creativity

A Nonsense story and Creativity in Children

 “Papa, I have something interesting for you”. My daughter said and I could see that mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“I will ask you some questions first”, she said

Do I have a choice?.

“Who is your favorite actor?”

“Amir Khan”

“Who is your favorite actress?”

“Kareena Kapoor”

“Choose a number between 0 and 10”

“3”

“Which your favorite pet”

“Dog”

After a short pause, she tell me the following story. “One day, Amir Khan and Kareena Kapoor comes to your home. You ask them how many children they have. They say three. Then you ask them how do they look. And they tell you that they look like dogs”

The way she told me this, she was thoroughly enjoying and looked quite satisfied. Though it looked too silly (and nonsense), I had to pretend that I enjoyed it.

Later as I think of this, it conveys something profound. There has been several studies done on creativity in children. But what prevents us (grown-ups) from being creative like them? In this world we are taught to make sense in what we say and do. Things need to be logical and needs to convey something etc. We are concerned about what others think of what we do or say. And it is this ‘need to make sense’ that doesn’t allow us to be creative..

If we just stop making sense (at least for sometime), perhaps we can get a glimpse of what a creative state is. But that may not be easy. Just try cooking up a story that absolutely makes no sense and telling it to someone, you will be surprised to see how tough that is.

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Purposelessness

There is a person I respect a lot; someone living in knowledge. We will call him V, to protect his identity. I first heard of him through a friend who narrated the following incident to me. Once V had been to the US Consulate in Chennai for a visa interview. The place was crowded as usual, and people were impatiently and nervously waiting for their turn. The US Consulate had the reputation of declining Visa without giving any reason. And it was an ordeal for most till they finished the ‘interview’.

There was a coffee shop around where people drank coffee and left the empty cups on the side walls and tables. Then V began to do something strange. He started picking up those cups and deposited them in to the dustbins. No word spoken. More people came and left more cups around. And V continued this till he was called in for the interview. He went inside with not a trace of nervousness.

 This story was the main motivation for me to meet V about 8 years back.

This incident came to mind recently when ‘purposelessness’ came in to a conversation. As the logical mind becomes stronger, it becomes extremely difficult to do something that does not make sense. ‘Let me understand’ is our common reaction especially to new things. And we discard many things in life because they make no sense.

But actually doing something that is ‘purposeless’ can be a profound experience. There is a joy concealed behind them. Ability to do something ‘purposeless’ is a sign of wisdom. This can help someone step out of the logical mind. But it is extremely difficult to do it as the mind will do everything to talk you out of this.

 Here is a simple exercise. When you meet someone either in the office corridor or on the street, just tell them a sentence (for e.g “it is better to be a vegetarian”). Nothing more, nothing less. No introduction, no waiting for a response. Just move on and may be tell the next person too…

Have fun!

Logic

It is commonly believed these days that ‘logic’ is what prevents one from thinking creatively. Strangely, if you were to ask a spiritual master what is the obstacle on the way to freedom or realization, you might get the same answer. We have a villain and since ‘logic’ is an abstract concept, it is easy to blame it. I too have made fun of the ‘logical mind’ in several posts in this blog.

But one level deeper, do we really understand what exactly is this demon called ‘logic’? How does it influence our thinking? How to get over it? Or are we too busy inventing techniques to overcome ‘logic’? (It is like the concept of ‘sin’ in some religions. Once you can make people buy in to this belief, it’s easy to create a whole industry out of it)

Here is an insight that came along on this.

 The mind made up of thoughts. In the absence of thoughts, there is ‘space’ which the mind is uncomfortable with. Therefore the mind needs something to be going on continuously. In order to achieve this, mind has devised a mechanism which consists of two distinct things:

  1. There is a process that keeps dumping thoughts continuously in to the mind (to the next empty space to be really precise)
  2. There is an ‘algorithm’ that chooses what will go in to that space from a choice of millions of possibilities These two together keeps the mind engaged and active.

The second one follows and supports the first. And the second one is what is called the logic.

Contrary to what many say, the ‘logic’ might actually be good. The issue comes from the fact that at some point both the above acts become unconscious. This is where the problem lies. Even before you see something fully, you have already named it, categorized it and may be made an opinion on it, because in the little space that follows the act of seeing, the mind fills the details from your past experience.

When we talk of a creative thought, we are actually talking of that one which is unconditioned by your experience, memory, perceptions etc. It’s almost like the thought is not yours. And just because of the fact that it comes not from the conditioned mind, it can be anything – a new insight, a new poem, a new solution, a new dimension, a new potential or may be God himself.

In order to go beyond logic or transcend thought, there are two ways. One is to look in to the second act – to see how the logic can be refined to produce the best output. This is what most of the creative and innovation techniques try to do. There try to define frameworks and techniques which can orient the mind in a particular direction. This definitely might produce thinking that’s superior to normal, but then you aren’t really talking of that idea that’s born beyond the mind.

The other approach is to tackle the process of filling the mind with thoughts. This is what many spiritual traditions attempt to. This is done by the simple technique of being comfortable with space or nothingness. And the moment you are comfortable with the space, the need for the logic is gone. Space where there is neither thinking nor the need for thinking exists.

 Then in this space might arise that new insight or the thought that is not stained by the logic..

The secret of creative thinking

It’s now commonly believed that creativity has got to do with the right brain, and that the logical left brain is the biggest block to creative thinking. It’s very hard not believe this because of the physical structure of the brain. But is it true that we just need to be right brained to be creative?

Few months back, I happened to watch a video of a boy whose left brain was removed in early childhood. He was about 18 years and pretty much is a normal person. It seems his right hemisphere .had pretty much taken over the functions of the left which happens typically when one of the hemispheres is removed in early childhood.

At that point of time, I had almost believed in the right brain-left brain theory. Therefore it was with great expectation that I watched this video. I was hoping to hear that this boy is either very creative or very spiritual. Nothing. He was almost a plain normal boy. 

 I began to wonder if the right brain – left brain theory was a matter of convenience. Perhaps it was because we have moved from studying the mind to studying the brain (thanks to the new technologies), which itself could be limiting our thinking.

I have come to believe now that there is something ‘dynamic’ in the brain that is above the physical structure (may be the analogy of PC Hardware and operating system will help). This ‘movement’ determines how the brain works at a particular instance, and is responsible for what and how we think

There are two distinct qualities of our brain:

–          Focusing : this is the ability of the brain to go deep in an almost linear fashion. This is typically expressed as concentration. You can also imagine that this is like going deep and vertical.

–          Expanding : This is the ability of the brain to expand; which is typically expressed as  ‘attention’. This is like going outwards and horizontal.

Every brain has these two qualities. But unfortunately, they tend to interfere with each other. For e.g, you are trying to read something and after a while you tune off and is thinking about something non-relevant. This is the expanding ability interfering with the focusing ability. The other way is also true. But in their pure forms, both of them are extremely powerful

Developing control over these two qualities is the first step to creative thinking. That is also to make thinking a conscious activity. When this happens one will be able to concentrate on something for long time without being distracted and at the same time he will be able to think divergently without being limited by his memory and logic.

Both these qualities are necessary in creative thinking. But in addition, there is something that will synchronize the  two in a very dynamic way (looks like, physiologically  Focusing is the aspect of the left brain, Expanding the aspect of the right and Balancing the aspect of the front brain)

So you can visualize the creative thinking like this : You think outward till you spot(feel) something important or something you are looking for and then you zoom in on that (the closest analogy you can think of is that of an eagle circling on the sky looking for the prey and zooming on it once found.

Most of us are typically caught up in the ‘zooming’ function, which is linear. The second step in creative thinking is to shift the default thinking mode to ‘expanding’

I would like to assume that there must be something in the brain (mostly non physical) that coordinates the two qualities. At the moment I have no idea what this is. But my hunch is that this is what is what the yogis call prana

Patterns and Creativity

We had discussed about how the mind responds to a trigger in the posts Problem solving – what happens in the mind and Responding to a trigger – what happens in the mind.

How one thinks is determined by how his thoughts connect to one another or how a  new thought is formed in response to trigger.  And a subtle difference between different connections can produce drastically different outputs. This can differentiate between creative and normal thinking.

It is said that every neuron has a choice of 5000 – 6000 connections to choose from, which can tell you the amount of complexity involved in connecting thoughts. Try imagining the situation  where every time you think, you have to pause after every thought and choose from over 5000 thoughts to connect. It might look ridiculous, but in reality I think the brain can do such wonders. But the intelligent mind (logical) tackles this problem by forming patterns, based on past experiences. When a new trigger arrives, mind prompts you to behave in a particular way; the prompting depending upon your past experience. If you oblige, the patterns are strengthened and stronger the patterns lesser one has control on it. (By pattern, I mean the sequence of connecting thoughts – please refer to the post The problem of ‘interpretation’ for a sample)

The way patterns work is interesting. In a scenario where a pattern consists of a set of thoughts that are triggered by a particular event, the mind is only aware of  the beginning and the end of the pattern and not what happens in between. In this way, the processing is pretty fast, but the disadvantage is that thinking becomes almost unconscious. And the more patterns we form in the mind, more unconscious our thinking becomes.

Look at small children; they are still forming the patterns. They can still look at a ‘flower’ without really labeling it, classifying it, trying to name it or even wanting to know where the plant was purchased from. But then there is  a loving father or a teacher  who tells him/her what that flower is called, why is the color this way, what is the biological name etc..Great, a new pattern forms and the next time the child sees the same flower, the mind is most likely  busy trying to recollect the botanical name of the plant..

Creativity experts argue that ‘logical mind’ is the most prominent block for creativity. Though this is true at a surface level, what can you do with the logical mind? You telling yourself to drop all logic simply doesn’t work. The real block  is actually the ‘patterns’ or how a single new thought connect to an existing thought (or memory)  or create another new thought.

For most of us, this is a completely involuntary activity (this by itself  is a problem which later manifests as compulsive thinking and reactive mind patterns when someone is stressed etc), which means we have no idea what is happening during a thought processing.

Now simply imagine that we have some say or control over how one thought connects to another. Or at least there is a small delay in the connection process, so that it is not a completely unconscious process. Can you imagine what would happen to our thinking? How will our perceptions change?

This is actually the key to creative thinking. I would put it this way: the first step to creative thinking is to make thinking ‘conscious’. And this is something that can be learnt by practice. We will continue the discussion. In the next post we will discuss about ‘Presence’, which is the key to making thinking conscious.